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Illegal, unscientific sand mining in Sutlej basin reaches alarming level, Locals living in panic of floods

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SHIMLA- Illegal and unscientific sand mining in the Sutlej River basin in Himachal Pradesh has reached an alarming level despite directions from High Court and criticism from environmentalists and locals. The basin is on the verge of destruction that will attract dreadly environmental hazards.  While locals face inconvenience and disappointed from authorities when they seek permission queering sand for their personal use, wealthy and influential people enjoy complete liberty.

Current efforts of the authorities are minimal due to interference of influential people, politicians, and rampant corruption as mining business is involves ridiculous amount of money.  Honest mining or police officials who try to follow their duty and take action against mining mafia are instantly transferred instead of being encouraged.  

Read:Baddi’s Singham – IPS Gaurav Singh slapped with transfer orders for standing against mining and drug mafia

According to a report published in Times of India, mafia has carried out illegal mining up to Satluj River with the depth of 50 to 100 feet and around 600 meter deep pits are already dug.  After sand is finished, the mafia is now extracting stone from the river basin. This can cause diversion of the river towards the village during rainy season. Mafia is even threatening the ancient temples that are on the verge of falling down with the extensive digging. Around 600 meters deep pits have already been dug by illegal miners, first they took off entire sand and on finding no more sand they are now digging stones.

Locals alleged that a month back previous SDM Rampur tried to stop the mafia after receiving complaints, but was soon transferred in couple of days.

People of Busher’s Dutt Nagar are now living in fear that water will flood their houses if the mining mafia isn’t stopped.  They allege that the illegal business is going on with full cooperation from the administration.

Himachal Pradesh Industry Department  claims that 3,875 cases of illegal sand mining have been registered so far. Fines have been imposed in 2,600 cases and  over Rs. 2 crore has been collected as fine. Many other cases remains pending due to ongoing trials.

Also Read: Illegal Mining in Shimla: Mining officials take note of complaints, challans and notices issued to offenders

Himachal Watcher had also reported cases of illegal mining in district Shimla after which the Mining Department conducted raids and caught culprits red-handed. However,  trivial penalties or cases do not bother the wealthy and influential people patronizing illegal mining and dumping. The nexus between Himachal Pradesh Government’s authorities  and mining mafia is openly working for both parties uninterrupted.  Though,  the authorities assures breakdown on the mafia, the condition is only getting worse.  

Also Read/Photos: Blatant illegal mining, dumping on Mashobra-Bekhalti road in broad daylight despite High Court warning

The stretch between Kinnaur and Rampur has witnessed unusually rapid growth of sand mafia during past four years that is now threatening the fragile ecology of Himachal Pradesh. 

The locals are in unrest and alleges that illegal miners are getting protection from the mining officers, but the common people are not allowed to quarry sand in their own field for their personal uses like building construction etc. Despite repeated complaints by locals with the mining department, no actions are taken either by police or mining department officials, who are “bribed” by big miners.  Rather, they only harass villagers.

Also Read: Round the clock illegal mining in Balh, Dharampur, Pandoh rivulets and Beas riverbed

The Industry Department is planning stringent norms and to intensify vigilance and raids on illegal sand queering here. The penalty has been increased. A tractor is fined Rs. 4,500, a truck with a capacity seven tonne is fined Rs. 7,000 and a truck with a capacity of more than 10 tonne is fined Rs. 25,000. The increased penalty is helping minimize the illegal sand mining in the region,” Himachal Pradesh Industry Department Director Rajesh Sharma, told ANI

It’s shocking to witness such non-governance from the elected government. Instead, government authorities are making hay while the sun shines over sand/stone mafia in Himachal.  What the corrupt government officials and illegal miners are not aware of is the environmental catastrophe they are inviting to their own home.   

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Himachal: Report Forest Fires on Toll-Free Numbers 1077 and 1070

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helpline for Forest Fires in himachal pradesh

Shimla-Forest fire is a recurrent annual phenomenon in Himachal Pradesh and causes losses worth several crores every year. Dry spell and summers make forests, especially chir pine forests, highly vulnerable to forest fires. These forest fires not only damage the forest wealth but also hit wildlife and biodiversity in general. The forest department attributes most fires to human factors.

Like every year, the forest department has claimed that it is all geared up and ready to combat forest fires this year too. Principal Chief Conservator of Forests Dr. Savita on Monday held a virtual review meeting with Forest Circles on preparedness for forest fires in the state.

She said that the Forest department was well prepared to fight the forest fires and a rapid forest fire fighting force and rapid response teams had been set up at forest division and range levels.

“Approximately 40,000 man-days of fire watchers would be engaged by the department in addition to existing frontline staff for preventing and combating forest fires,” she said. The state disaster control room with toll-free number 1077 at the state level and 1070 at the district level were operational for reporting of the forest fire by the local community, she informed.

Dr. Savita said messages regarding forest fire had been shared with the members of the rapid forest fire fighting force, in which approximately 50,000 volunteers had already been registered. Awareness to the community was also conducted through Nukkar Nataks, songs, speeches and other activities at different locations in the state. Besides, a massive state-level awareness program was also conducted at 45 places from 10 to 17 March 2021

She said that the department had created forest fire lines and did control burning and also constructed water storage structures in the forest areas to combat forest fires. Additional multi-utility vehicles and water loaded tankers in 80 fire-sensitive ranges had been engaged for three months. She that matter regarding Standard Operating Systems (SOPs) for requisition of helicopter services for dousing the forest fires had been sent to the Government for approval. 

Feature Photo: Unsplash@Thematthoward

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Himachal Counts 108,578 Waterbirds of 96 Species This Year With Increase in Habitat

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Annual Bird Count in Himachal Pradesh 2021

Shimla-The habitat of migratory and resident water-birds in Himachal Pradesh has gradually improved, said Forest Minister Rakesh Pathania.

The annual water-bird count at Pong Dam Lake Wildlife Sanctuary was conducted in the first of February, 2021 and the exercise was conducted under restrained conditions due to the prevailing Avian Influenza outbreak in Pong Dam Lake as well as the COVID-19 Pandemic, he said.

The exercise was conducted by Wildlife wing of Himachal Pradesh by deploying 57 staff members in 26 sections of the sanctuary for counting the water-dependent birds.

Total 108,578 birds of 96 species were counted during this year. Out of the total number, 101,431 of 51 species are water-dependent migratory birds and 6,433 of 29 species are water-dependent resident birds. As many as 714 birds of 16 other species were also recorded. The total population of the flagship species, Bar-Headed Geese, is 40,570.

The other species which have higher population count during this year are Eurasian Coot (24,163), Northern Pintail (12,702), Common Teal (8,444), Little Cormorant (3,649), Great Cormorant (3,410), Grey Lag Goose (2,297), Northern Shoveler (2,275) and Common Pochard (2,138). The species which find noticeable mention are Red Necked Grebe, Great Bittern, Lesser White-Fronted Goose, Red Crested Pochard, Ferruginous Pochard, Pied Avocet, Northern Lapwing, Peregrine Falcon etc. During the counting exercise, one Bar-headed Goose and one Grey Lag Goose with collars were also spotted.

This year the Annual bird count exercise assumes significance, considering the Avian Influenza outbreak in the Wildlife Sanctuary. Further, the Minister expressed satisfaction over the timely and effective containment measures taken by Wildlife Wing to control and contain Avian Influenza outbreak in the Wildlife Sanctuary.

PCCF (Wildlife) Archana Sharma and CCF Wildlife (North) Dharamshala Upasana Patial also participated and supervised the Annual Water Bird Count.

The total population of birds, as well as number of species, counted this year are marginally less as compared to last year, probably due to the impact of Avian Influenza outbreak which was first reported on 28th December 2020.

Although the total population of water birds declined during the peak of the Avian Influenza outbreak, there is a gradual increase in the total population of birds, the Minister informed.

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Himachal First State to Complete Assessment of Snow Leopard and its Wild Prey

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Snow Leopard Population Assessment in Himachal Pradesh

Shimla-The assessment of snow leopard population in Himachal Pradesh has been completed by the state wildlife wing in collaboration with Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF) Bangalore following the protocol aligning with the SPAI (Snow Leopard Population Assessment in India) protocols of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change. Himachal Pradesh has become the first state to complete assessment of snow leopard and its wild prey.

The state has an estimated population of up to 73 snow leopards.

It is the first scientifically robust estimate of snow leopards and its prey for the State. Since snow leopard is the state animal, the study assumes great significance for Himachal Pradesh.
The exercise revealed that snow leopard density ranged from 0.08 to 0.37 individuals per 100 sq.km., with the trans-Himalayan regions of Spiti, Pin valley and upper Kinnaur recording the highest densities, both of the predator and its prey, mainly ibex and blue sheep.

This study covered the entire potential snow leopard habitat of Himachal Pradesh: an area of 26,112 sq.km., utilising a stratified sampling design. Camera trapping surveys were conducted at 10 sites to representatively sample all the strata i.e. high, low and unknown. The camera trap deployment over the mountainous terrains was led by a team of eight local youth of Kibber village and more than 70 frontline staff of HPFD were trained in this technique as part of the project. Snow leopards were detected at all the 10 sites (Bhaga, Chandra, Bharmour, Kullu, Miyar, Pin, Baspa, Tabo, Hangrang & Spiti) suggesting that snow leopards are found in the entire snow leopard habitat in Himachal Pradesh either as resident individuals of a population or as dispersing individuals navigating through these connecting habitats.

Another revelation from the study is that a bulk of snow leopard occurrence is outside protected areas, reiterating the fact that local communities are the strongest allies for conservation in snow leopard landscapes.

The NCF and wildlife wing collaborated in the effort and it took three years to complete the assessment. MoEFCC had launched the First National Protocol on Snow Leopard Population Assessment in India, on the occasion of International Snow Leopard Day. You can read the complete protocol here.

Snow leopard is the icon of high mountains of Asia. In India, they inhabit the higher Himalayan and TransHimalayan landscape in an altitudinal range between approximately 3,000 m to 5,400 m above MSL, spanning c. 100,000 km2 in the five states of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. This area contributes to about 5% of the global snow leopard range.

Snow leopards occur over a vast, relatively remote and difficult to access mountainous area. Together with their elusive nature, this makes a complete population census of snow leopards an unfeasible goal. Even their distribution remains unclear. For example, recent surveys show that they do not occur in 25 % of the area that was thought to be their range in the state of Himachal Pradesh Their density is expected to be variable in space, dependent on several factors such as habitat suitability, prey availability, disturbance and connectivity. Variation in density across space also poses the risk of biased sampling, and, indeed, most of the snow leopard population assessments conducted so far across the world are biased towards the best habitats.

Feature Photo: Pexels/Charles Miller

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